What Andrew’s Reading: Bicycle on the Beach

This may become a bit of a recurring series. At the moment, I’m reading Bicycle on the Beach by Peter Viertel.  Yes, he was my uncle, and this book seems to be a coming of age tale.  My mom tells me that, while fictional, the book is largely autobiographical, and I clearly see the story of a my dad’s family, even if my dad does not appear as the protagonist’s younger brother.  I must confess that there is an element “too much information” in reading about the experiences of a character who I know to represent a relative.

The story is set in Santa Monica Canyon in the 1930’s and it tells the story of Carl Woolf as he struggles to grow up.  As a teen, he has embraced American culture to a greater extent than his father, a Jewish intellectual and his Trotskyite older brother. It’s his practical mother who sees to the provision for the family. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write a truly objective review of this story, as it is , in many ways a story of my heritage, but it will be interesting to see where it goes.


About Andrew

I'm a Christian, American, liberal, geeky, thoughtful, Northwest-transplanted Angeleno husband, father, and pundit who writes about anything he can think of.
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6 Responses to What Andrew’s Reading: Bicycle on the Beach

  1. Tetsushi Onishi says:

    I am Japanese and 50-year old. About 30 years ago,when I was a highscoolboy,I read this novel”Bicycle on the beach” by Japanese edition. At that time, I was so much moved by this novel,I wrote to Mr.Viertel c/o DELL Book. Recently I read this novel by original which has been sent from U.S.A. It’s a wonderful experience to read favorate book. I hear Mr.Viertel is your uncle. I am very happy to see you.

    • Andrew says:

      Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad you have had the opportunity to enjoy the book in two languages. Yes, Peter Viertel was my uncle. I must confess, however that I can’t really say I knew him, as he lived in Europe for my entire life. We did visit him and my grandmother in Switzerland when I was 3 in 1976. As far as I can tell, he had a pretty adventurous youth before settling into a 40-year marriage. He passed away in 2007, nineteen days after his wife.

  2. Tetsushi Onishi says:

    Thank you for your reply. I read Bicycle on the Beach by Peter Viertel many times. I think Pamela Gordon is an image of Deborah Kerr,Peter Viertel’s wife. Mr. Andrew, how do you think? I read “Tea and Sympathy”,although I am sorry never to watch this movie.
    Some scene make me think so.
    In Japan, only 2 Viertel’s books are published. “Bicycle on the Beach ” and “White Hunter Black Heart”
    In the future I could translate his other books from English into Japanese,as a great fan of him.

    • Andrew says:

      Interesting thought. On one hand, I know that “Pamela” (and her family) was real and was not Deborah. It really is an autobiographical novel. Of course, the story is fictionalized, so I suppose Peter would have been able to change the character and give her whatever attributes he wanted her to have. Given the context however, I’m not certain that using Deborah as a model for Pamela would make much sense. It’s not the happiest story, after all. Of course, coming of age stories tend to have a touch of melancholy.

  3. Tetsushi Onishi says:

    I understand what you say. A preface of” Bicycle on the beach” by Aragon,French poet explain it. Though I am not very good at French.
    I hear Mr.Viertel was played on screen by Robert Redford, according to longstanding rumors: the characters played by Redford and Barbara Streisand in The Way We Were (1973) were allegedly based on Viertel and his first wife.
    WHen I have watched the movie,I didn’t it. The movie is famous in Japan but almost japanese doesn’t know it.
    If Mr.Andrew have some information about Peter Viertel,please teach me.
    So long!

  4. Andrew says:

    There have been various rumors to that effect regarding “The Way We Were.” My understanding it that elements of Peter’s life were incorporated into the Redford character, although there were other elements as well. For example, the Redford character is described as a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, but Peter was Jewish. (That’s from thw wikipedia entry on the film, by the way.)
    As far as teaching, I’m afraid I don’t really know that much beyond the public knowledge. I didn’t have a relationship with him. If you’re interested in some of his background, you might try and find a copy of my grandmother’s autobiography. It’s called “The Kindness of Strangers” by Salka Viertel. It’s out of print in English, but apparently it’s been re-released in Germany, in German, of course.

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